Saturday, September 24, 2016

Nova's Heart: Caring for the Pets of Shreveport's Most Vulnerable

I was at an event last weekend and ran into my friend Loraine who was spending her Saturday under a hot tent at the Highland Jazz and Blues Festival as part of her service with Nova's Heart.  I told her about a man I saw under an overpass near the LSU Med Center with his dog, and I worried about them because I had no dog food with me; I told her how I wished I had a Nova's Heart bucket in my car filled with small, manageable bags of dog food to hand to people in need like this man.

Loraine's face lit up, she smiled, and said, "Oh, that's Frank!  He's one of our clients - he has food, I promise you!  We take care of him ...".  I don't think his name was Frank - I can't remember the name she told me, but the point is, she knew the man, knew the dog, and knew where their normal location is.  The dog is micro-chipped, vaccinated, and on heartworm preventative thanks to Nova's Heart.

I've written about Nova's Heart before; the group is a relatively new 501c3 non-profit organization that was formed about two years ago in Shreveport when some people working in local animal rescue realized there was a need for service for the pets of our city's homeless citizens.  The group started small, working out of The Hub in downtown Shreveport with a handful of volunteers coming together several times a week to distribute food, leashes, and harnesses to the large homeless population downtown who had pets in need.

Loraine and her volunteers scratched together food donations, stored it in bins, bagged it in quart and gallon sized Ziplocs for easy transport, and distributed it themselves. Word spread, more people in
Bags of food ready for distribution to those in need.
need came out of the shadows with the knowledge that finally there was a group who would not look through them as if they were invisible, a group that would treat them like human beings, and a group who cared about their animals.

It's a statistical fact that many people that are homeless refuse to give up their pets and will feed their pets before they feed themselves. Their pets don't judge them and offer unconditional love and support.  Sometimes those pets also offer protection.  Living on the streets disrupts whatever your normal life was and caring for a pet lets them retain some sense of control, routine, and normalcy.  Nova's Heart recognized all of that and stepped up to help.

Nobody else in the area is doing this service for the homeless or those in crisis.

Nobody else in this area is doing what Nova's Heart does.

As more and more of the homeless pet owners heard about the help Nova's Heart offered, it soon became clear that this organization was growing faster than Loraine and her friends realized; they needed a bigger space and they needed some help.  They applied for and received their 501c3 charter in February 2015, about a year and a half ago.  Shortly after their application was approved, Nova's Heart was invited by HOPE Connections to partner with them as HOPE worked with the homeless population to provide a one-stop access point to a variety of services for them.

Now, Nova's Heart has a donated building (a former railroad container converted into a building) that sits right next to HOPE Connections on Levy Street.  This provides a place for food storage, a place for pet owners to bathe their dogs, and to obtain services for their pet while they get services for themselves at HOPE.  There was one lovely Saturday when a group of volunteers came together to paint the building "Nova's Heart Red" and install flooring. With the warm, spring sun blazing down, we turned up the radio and painted our hearts out -- volunteers coming together for good.

Saturday morning outreach
Every Saturday morning Nova's Heart and other local groups meet to provide outreach, food, and services to the homeless population in downtown Shreveport. Nova's volunteers also have an outreach program during the week where they go to various homeless camps and locations where their clients stay to check on the dogs, their owners, and provide what help is needed.

The success stories are many; just look at the Nova's Heart Facebook page to see one story after another. Click on the pictures tab; it's the pictures that get me. Look into the eyes of a dog that some stranger has helped and you see pure love. Look at the good work they are doing.

The love and compassion spread by Loraine, Bo, Carla, and all of the other volunteers is immeasurable. I have seen this with my own eyes.  I have never been downtown with Bo that he did not walk up to some person living on the streets, reach out and shake his hand, and pet the dog. Bo knows them all by name -- they are people; not "homeless" people.  There is no judgment at Nova's.

Nova's Heart is still a new, growing organization with an unfathomable potential to do good. However, there have been growing pains. These are all volunteers -- uncompensated volunteers -- that run this organization and none have had experience running a non-profit before. There is no high-salaried CEO and there are no plush offices. Nobody gets paid one dime for their work.  They don't want to be paid.  But as a new group they are still learning a few things about running such a 501c3.  Mistakes have been made, learned from, and corrected. Nothing egregious, fortunately, which is remarkable for such a new group.

They set up a Board of Directors, established bylaws, and called in an accountant to help oversee
things.  The need for the organization far outpaced the learning curve and Loraine and her group worked hard to get these positions in place to help manage activities and donations.

In the past year, Nova's Heart has arranged and paid for the spay/neuter of over twenty dogs, provided at least thirty rabies vaccinations, and provided food, kennels, leashes, sweaters, harnesses, water bowls, and blankets for over seventy-five dogs; the number of food packages distributed is countless.

Social media can be a strong and positive tool for good and it can also be the devil. It is never the place to air grievances or personal issues, especially when others could be hurt.  The vicious attacks on Nova's Heart this week on Facebook have hurt my heart.  I know Loraine and I know her love for this organization; I know the deeply personal story that caused her to found this group.

Loraine is a quiet, private woman whose only concern is for the animals in need and she works very hard to do the right thing for them. She's learning on the go with this non-profit and when I say "on the go" I mean that literally.  She volunteers almost 40 hours a week.  Her heart is in absolutely the right place. She is the perfect woman to run this non-profit.

I write this post as a plea for a cease fire to the Facebook trash talk. If you haven't heard any of it -- wonderful.  Don't go looking for it; don't sink to that level. I don't want the work that Nova's Heart does to be damaged by disgruntled people with personal vendettas. Put personal drama aside and do good for our community.

The bottom line is this: there is a need for what Nova's Heart does. This city has a huge animal overpopulation problem and a huge homeless population. There is no other group that does what they do and certainly nobody that does it with the love and compassion and untiring devotion that they do and we are beyond lucky that this group exists.

Nova's Heart and its current Board of Directors has my one-hundred percent faith, trust, and devotion.

Disclaimer:  This post is from my own heart and the people at Nova's Heart had absolutely nothing to do with my writing it.

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